Woodstock? Nope. This fest was in Prairieville, Louisiana (copy)

John Moore shows a photo of himself last week performing approximately 50 years ago, as he talks about the 1969 New Orleans Pop Festival at his home in New Orleans. Fifty years ago, a couple weeks after the Woodstock music festival drew hundreds of thousands to farmland in New York, there was a smaller, bayou-country re-enactment of sorts. It was called the New Orleans Pop Festival, although it took place 60 miles away, it featured several of the same acts as Woodstock. Also on hand was Moore, known as “Deacon John,” who at 78 is still a renowned New Orleans performer.

NEW ORLEANS — August, 1969. Thousands of long-haired young people, some nude or nearly so, populate the rural landscape. Janis Joplin, Santana, and the Grateful Dead are among the featured acts and the air is thick with the sound of rock and the smell of marijuana.


Nope. Prairieville. Prairieville, Louisiana.

Fifty years ago, in Woodstock’s wake, an estimated 30,000 people jammed into, or camped outside of, a speedway in Prairieville, 65 miles west-northwest of New Orleans, for what was dubbed the New Orleans Pop Festival. It was a bayou-country re-enactment of sorts.

It was smaller than Woodstock, which had drawn an estimated 400,000 to farmland in New York two weeks earlier. But there was a similar hippie vibe at the Louisiana festival, says John Moore, aka Deacon John, the New Orleans guitar virtuoso and vocalist who is still performing 50 years later.

“We wanted to emulate Woodstock by showing that New Orleans, despite its location in the Deep South, which was, you know, the harbinger of hatred and evil and racism — and all the anti-war stuff was going on — we wanted to show them that New Orleans could have a festival, too, without any violence,” Moore said.

Some of the widely famous acts that played Woodstock also played at Prairieville, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Canned Heat, and Country Joe & the Fish, whose “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag” became an anti-Vietnam war anthem.

Jimi Hendrix was not there to repeat his Woodstock performance. But Deacon John, then 28, was.

He recalls giving the crowd a taste of Hendrix with song selection — “We played ‘Foxy Lady’” — and attire.

“I had my tie-dyed headband on, with my bell-bottom blue jeans and my tie-dyed shirt,” Moore said. Clad in what is now his customary performance garb — jacket, tie, short-brimmed hat — he beamed at the memory of the festival.

One archived news account says a dozen people were arrested for sale and possession of marijuana and that doctors treated about 30 people on LSD.

Nobody could say that anyone who wound up in jail or ill hadn’t been warned. The program urged abstention from drugs from uncertain sources that might be “improperly manufactured.” And a poster warned of plainclothes detectives in the crowd.

The program read: “Festival staff would like to remind you that there are people outside of this stadium who don’t dig the sounds you’ll hear this weekend, who don’t like our hair or our clothes or our ideas, and they are waiting for us to blow our cool.”

There were similar festivals that weekend in Lewiston, Texas, and Tenino, Wash., and all three went off with no reports of major incidents. Traffic backups were reported near the Prairieville site, but, an AP story following the festival’s close was largely positive. Among those pleased: “The area merchants ... who reaped a harvest from the flower children and were astonished at their unexpected good behavior.”

Subsequent festivals have had their ups and downs. Months later, a festival at Altamont Speedway in California would be marked by violence, including a stabbing death. But, 50 years later, the New Orleans Pop Festival appears to have been a peaceful, hippie-era success.

“We wanted to show that a sizeable portion of the Southern population, in the Deep South, could get together with peace and love and brotherhood,” Moore said.

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